This is a long story about a long story. Many years ago I was advised to call it a novel.
Illegally Sane 7
Reed bummed a cigarette from me and made a quick trip to the head. When he came back I continued the story.
Soon we started going to the rifle range on a daily basis. Right away I started having problems. “What kind of problems, John?” “Well Reed, we were battle sight zeroing our M 14s. You know, trying to put three shots close together on the target and then adjusting our sights until we put the three shots in center bull.
As a kid, I learned how to shoot with the Boy Scouts and was a pretty good shot with a 22. But all day I was having a hard time just getting one bullet on target period.At the end of the day my instructor passed me out of pure frustration.
As the days passed I wasn’t hitting anything I was aiming at. On occasion I ‘d aim at 100 yard target and take down one of the 300 yard targets. After a couple days, we had to qualify for real with our weapons.
In the morning, playing a lot of wind age, I somehow managed to take down 7 targets out of 100 which was a miserable failure. When lunch time rolled around, Charley sent for me.
I walked into the range hut and he was seated at a table thumbing through the results. He looked up at me and barked, “Moran you ain’t blind or anything like that are you?“No Sergeant.” “Well you ain’t a damn pacifist are you?” “No sergeant.” “Then how the hell do you explain these results? You know you boloed don’t you?” “Yes Sergeant.” “You know boloes get recycled right?” “Yes Sergeant.” “Then what the hell is your problem, Moran?”
“Sarg, I’m aiming but I just ain’t hitting.” “Did you battle sight your weapon?” “Well kind of Sergeant.” “What do mean kind of?” “Well I never really got it sighted in.” Charley rose to his feet and stared at me for a second; then he barked, “Get your weapon and come with me Moran.”
We walked outside and all of the troops were still eating. Charley quickly got a hold of the range NCO, “Billy could you do me a favor and set up #6?” “Sure no problem Charley. ” Then he grabbed a butt can full of magazines and we walked over to the #6 position. “Now jump in that hole, Moran. Range cleared he yelled.” “Clear” came back from the PA. “Okay, lock and load Moran, and take out that first row of 100 yard silhouettes.”
I fire five rounds at five separate targets and none of them went down. Charley quickly demanded, “Hand that weapon soldier.” He held the weapon in one hand at his waste and clicked off five rounds in rapid succession, nothing went down. He adjusted the sights and this time put it to his shoulder, aimed and clicked off another five rounds. This time one of the 300 yard targets went down. He looked down at me in the foxhole and asked, “Where the hell did you get this weapon from, John’s Bargain Store?” Then he stuck hand in pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “Come here Moran, you know where my car is over there?” Every one in the company knew Charley’s candy apple red 62 Chevy Impala convertible, so I just smiled, “Yes Sergeant.” “Good, here’s the key to my trunk. In the trunk you will find a white tool box. This is the key to the box, open it and bring my weapon back here.”
I went to his car and opened the trunk. There was a beat up long white tool box with a pad lock. I opened it and inside it was velvet lined with an M 14 inside in three pieces. I quickly put it together and ran back to Charley.
“Hand me the weapon Moran.” He called for a clear again and got it.Then he slapped a magazine into the weapon and locked and loaded. Once again, he held the weapon in one hand at waste and popped off another five rounds. This time five of 100 yard silhouettes went down in rapid succession. Next he grasped the stock with his left hand and still at hip, popped another five rounds. This time five 200 yard targets when down. Then he took a kneeling position and dropped five of the 250 yard targets. I was impressed. Finally he rose to a standing position and clicked off another five rounds. This time only four of the 300 yard targets went down. Charley stared at last silhouette in disbelief. Then he yelled, “Clear the range and bring me that standing silhouette.”
Four minutes later a PFC ran up to Charley with the silhouette in hand. Charley stuck his pinky through a hole dead center in the head. Then he turned to the PFC and barked, “Fix that f…g thing private.” Charley smiled at me and winked, “You’ll use this weapon and we’ll try again this afternoon.”
This time I took down 96 out of a 100 and made expert. At the end of the day we switched weapons again and he told me to turn mine in to the armorer. “Tell the armorer that you would like a weapon with a straight barrel this time.”
Special treatment? You better believe it; anyone else would have just been recycled. There was another strange thing about the incident, but I didn’t realize it at the time. NCOs don’t usually have their own personal weapons that they carry around in the trunk of their cars.
A couple of nights later, Charley dropped in for another one of his visits. This time Panama, me and Barker were sitting on our footlockers chatting about what a great president Kennedy was. Charley walked over and joined the conversation.
“Great President he snarled the guy is a damn traitor.” That comment flipped Panama out, “You can’t talk that way about the president, he’s the commander in chief, sergeant.” Charley just smiled at him and said, “He ain’t my commander in chief and next week he won’t be yours either.” “What do you mean by that, sergeant?” “I mean maybe we’re all going to have a new president real soon.” With that he just winked at us and walked away. Panama turned to us and said, “That guy is really stupid, man.” Richey agreed, but I didn’t say anything, for some strange reason, I believed he knew what he was talking about.
Two days later, after the morning formation, Charley walked over to Nolton. “Nolton, I’m going away on personal business tomorrow. So tomorrow you’ll also be in charge of the fourth platoon. Don’t worry; I’ve cleared it with the first sergeant.” “No problem Charley, where are you going?” “I’m flying home tonight. I’m going to see a man about my uncle Sam’s estate. I’ll be back the day after tomorrow.” “Well good luck and safe flight.” “Thanks Nolton, I appreciate that.”
That night after chow I ran into Charley as he was leaving the fourth platoon barracks. He was wearing blue jeans with brown construction boots. He also had on a white turtle neck covered with a blue flannel checked hunting shirt. In his left hand was an air line bag; in his right was that white tool box. It really struck me kind of odd; somehow, I imagined he’d be going home in a suit with luggage. “Hey, Moran, he smiled, I’m going to Texas, you want me to bring you back a steer, partner?” “No thanks, sarg, I don’t think it would fit in my wall locker.”
Bright and early the next day, we marched off to the range again. There were 250 New Yorkers in our company, so one of them of course had to be named Kennedy. Joe was in the third platoon and was a pretty out going guy. Naturally, everybody in the company knew him and most of us liked him.
By early afternoon we were on the firing line again, when suddenly the PA blasted, “Cease Firing.” Everybody cleared their weapons and just looked at each other. Then word passed down the line. “Kennedy got shot, pass it along.” One of the guys at the end of the line yelled out, “Who shot him?” A voice rang back, “Some guy in Texas.” Then thinking it was Joe, a third voice rang out, “Boy, what a shot.”Then the PA made the formal announcement. “President Kennedy has been shot. All we know is that he was rushed to the hospital, but we don’t know how serious it is yet. Platoon sergeants form up your platoons in the break area.”
When we got to the break area we were put at ease with, “Light em if you got em.” Then the rumors started flying all over the place. “The Russians did it, we’re going to war” was the big one. Even a couple of the NCOs were buying into that one. Finally, Nolton put that one to rest, “I don’t think the Russians are that stupid, so I would worry about a war for now.”
We hung out for about two hours as we got updates from the PA. Finally somebody made the decision to give us the rest of the day off, so we marched back home in silence.
At that night I saw Charley from our window walking back to his barracks. He was wearing the same clothes he had left in. In the distance he looked kind of tired and beat, but as he drew closer, I could see a nervous lonely fear on his face. That just wasn’t like Charley at all, I thought. What stood out even more in my mind was that white tool box of his; it was still in his left hand.
After that night his visits to our barracks ended. So I never got change to ask him how things when in Texas. One thing was for sure, he didn’t bring back a steer with him.
Three weeks later we graduated from basic. Nolton got his third stripe and Charley got a rocker on three. Me, I got orders for FortBragg. It seemed the army thought I was smart enough to skip school at FortMcClellan and go right to work.
Pat kicked in, “Are you telling us this Charley guy shot Kennedy?” “I never said that Pat.” “Well that’s what it sounds like to me.” Reed smiled, “Sounds like it to me too, John. “ “To each his own gentlemen, Quite often I’m afraid history is really just a mixture of truth and illusion, so I’ll leave it up to you to guys to choose your own blend.”